The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)
November 1, 2016
Uwetsiageyv landed on the island at the estuary where the water from the giant’s urn met the sea. She found no birds near the brackish water, so she continued following the stream up the slope and into the interior of the island.
Soon she heard a distinctive rattle. She froze in her steps and listened for the call again. The hidden bird seemed also to be waiting for it was not until Uwetsiageyv took a second step that the bird released another rattle. She continued moving further inland, and the bird seemed intentionally to keep just out of sight. Its call was channeled down the opening in the tree cover created by the stream but, though Uwetsiageyv scanned the branches lining the banks, she did not see the bird. She knew exactly what she was looking for and was somewhat surprised. The natives of every island she had thus far visited in the Sea of Birds had been songbirds of one sort or another. But this call did not belong to a songbird but to a belted kingfisher.
“Come out!” she called to the bird.
Her shout drew a rattle followed by a shriek.
Uwetsiageyv smiled at the alarm. She stopped her progress and removed her shoes. Sitting on the bank, she dipped her feet in the cool water. Tiny fish—sticklebacks or mummichogs—darted away as she disturbed their shallows. Such fish were the primary diet of the belted kingfisher. Perhaps, Uwetsiageyv thought, she had disturbed breakfast. She would wait until the bird was ready to receive her.
Her patience paid off. Flying down the course of the stream, the bird perched on a bare branch a dozen yards upstream on the opposite bank. Its distinctive shape—a large head and a heavy straight bill—seemed something out of a storybook to Uwetsiageyv. Its coloring was no less enigmatic—a blue-gray shaggy crest upon its head and a white breast marked above with a belt of similar color and below a second belt of chestnut, the latter of which marked this bird as female.
“Hello,” said Uwetsiageyv, waving a hand.
The kingfisher watched her warily. Her species had not managed to continuously dwell along rivers since the Pleistocene era by being overly inquisitive. She seemed to gaze downward at her reflection. In the blink of an eye, she dove to the water and snatched a minnow from the surface. Back on her perch, she swallowed her catch whole.
“That was amazing!” Uwetsiageyv said as she clapped in applause.
The kingfisher responded with a slow sequence of rattles, each spaced by several seconds, followed by a quick, piercing scream. She had not come to entertain the crow girl.
Old Magpie had sent her to summon the girl. They would find her in an ill temper if the kingfisher, having tended to her breakfast, did not directly bring the crow to court.
November 2, 2016
A Description of Old Magpie
The court of Old Magpie proved to be a small, shady glade, more or less circular in shape, surrounded by stately, tulip poplars, rising as straight as columns into the heights of the canopy. Located but a short distance from the stream, the court was filled with the quiet music of flowing water.
The kingfisher led Uwetsiageyv from the banks to the edge of the clearing. She came to rest on a perch beside her mate, on a high branch. From this vantage point, the pair observed the meeting between the crow and the magpie.
We think of faeries as immortal, caught in an endless youth. To the extent that the dwarf has lodged in our mind the suspicion that the Uwetsiageyv was a crow faerie, we may even have fallen into the habit of thinking of her as similarly unchanging. But, here standing in her court, Old Magpie gave evidence to the contrary.
Aged beyond reckoning, a stooped woman clung for support to a rough, wooden staff, taller than she was by a head. Her complexion was not so different from that of Uwetsiageyv, save that upon the old woman, it was marked with spots and blotches of every imaginable color associated with senescence. Her skin hung loosely on her face and exposed arms. Wrinkles and folds accentuated each feature. A thin, white mass of hair hung down upon her shoulders and back.
She was dressed as a magpie should be, with a black blouse hung over a white skirt. The fabric of both appeared once to have been fine but had grown thin over time. The shirt hung on her shoulders and did little to hide her gaunt frame. The skirt was cinched tight about her waist, revealing a figure that Uwetsiageyv feared could have been toppled by a faint breeze, the presence of the staff notwithstanding. The old woman’s feet were small and bare.
Her wings, too, were those of a magpie. For those who have seen the magpie in flight, they know the image is magnificent beyond reasonable expectation. The outermost feathers are white but separated from each other by solid black lines. The feathers of the inner half of each wing are a vibrant, iridescent blue. When folded each wing presents three interlocked triangles of color-black at the shoulder, white beneath and blue at the end.
We remind the reader of the beauty of the wings of the magpie before describing those wings attached to Old Magpie, because it helps the imagination piece together what once must have been splendidly beautiful but which, in age, had deteriorated until the commonalities between the two were almost lost to the eye, for the wings of Old Magpie had suffered extensive molting, as if from disease. Patches of pale, unhealthy flesh appeared beneath the partial coverage of black, white and blue. Flying upon such wings, Uwetsiageyv surmised, was likely impossible.
Uwetsiageyv met the gaze of Old Magpie and found gummy orbs, clouded over. It was not clear that the old woman was capable of any sight at all. Regardless, her attention was fixed on the crow girl.
“Hello,” Uwetsiageyv said tentatively from the far side of the clearing.
“Wock, wock wock-a-wock, wock! Pjur! Weer, weer!” The piercing call erupted from Old Magpie, so alarming the pair of kingfishers that, despite their interest in the proceedings, they flew off in a flurry of rattles and shrieks, not to return until Uwetsiageyv had left the court.
November 3, 2016
An Unintended Popularity
The blind crone faerie once again spoke the words of men. They trembled from her throat, ill-suited to such syllables. Around the clearing, ten thousand dual-pointed poplar leaves fluttered in response, as if disturbed by a passing breeze.
“Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child.”
The crow girl was astonished that the words of the giant should be repeated by the ancient woman.
“You heard the voice too,” she said softly, taking several steps into the clearing. It was not that surprising in retrospect. The voice of the giant must have reverberated far and wide, reaching many islands. Uwetsiageyv paused when she was near the center of the glade. The old woman remained rooted to a spot at the far edge, one arm extended, clutching the staff.
“I have been waiting a long time.”
It suddenly occurred to Uwetsiageyv that the old woman did not intend to merely repeat the words of the giant; she presumed to be the giant. Of course, there was no similarity in the gentle calm of the voice of the giant and the feeble muttering she now encountered. Although Uwetsiageyv had no intention of indulging the old woman’s demented fantasies, she nevertheless felt obliged to ask, “Are you Kawoladesgv?”
“Good Heavens!” said the old woman. The surprised reaction wracked her fragile frame. Uwetsiageyv feared she might collapse as a result, but the staff steadied the old woman and she resumed her original still pose. “Let’s not be hasty,” she said. “I am called Old Magpie.”
Magpies neither resided in nor seasonally passed through the lands of Uwetsiageyv’s childhood. As such, she possessed no familiarity with their ways. Some memory within her suggested she had seen a picture of a magpie in a book at the library; the coloration of the clothes and remaining feathers of the wings seemed to corroborate the old woman’s claim. “Pleased to meet you,” Uwetsiageyv said in reply.
With her free hand, the old woman motioned for Uwetsiageyv to approach her. “Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child.”
Something in the gesture, innocuous in and of itself, frightened the crow girl. She did not shift from her current position. Instead she asked, “Why do you say the words that Kawoladesgv has been saying to me?”
Old Magpie arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Uwetsiageyv had little patience for this game, whatever its purpose was. Her tone contained, as a result, a hint of terseness, as she replied, “Someone else has also been telling me that they have been waiting a long time for me.”
“My,” said Old Magpie, “Aren’t you a popular girl!”
November 4, 2016
An Act of Malfeasance
There welled up within Uwetsiageyv the overwhelming conviction that Old Magpie was not what she seemed. An element of deception clung to her, which Uwetsiageyv could intuit but not pierce. She scrutinized the old woman, who surely posed no physical threat to her, but nevertheless could not shake the feeling of dread. At that moment, Uwetsiageyv recalled a fairy tale in which a witch, seeking immortality, required the blood of maidens to prolong her unnatural life. Perhaps, this baseless anxiety clouded her better judgment.
Undeniably, Old Magpie was decrepit with age. Without context, she was something hideous, a specimen showcasing the sickness of the aged, an example of the many mechanisms by which time robs us of our strength and vitality. Of course, when we encounter the very old in our own lives, our rejection of their presentiment of death is softened by our recognition of our shared vulnerability. Often, our response is made palatable by love.
Unfortunately, this thought did not occur to Uwetsiageyv as she faced Old Magpie. For whatever reason, perhaps nothing more than an anomalous, temporary paucity of empathy, she felt only that she had been lured into a trap under false pretenses. She fled, racing back the way she had come.
The kingfishers were waiting for her at the river. They released their rattling calls as a klaxon of her passing and followed at a distance as she scrambled on the bank downriver. In her haste, she succumbed to clumsiness and stumbled over a root, bruising her leg. She pushed herself up and resumed her hurried sprint to the shoreline.
When she reached the estuary, she ran heedlessly through the shallow, brackish water. The pair of birds remained perched on poplars at the edge of the tree line, though they watched her intently.
Uwetsiageyv climbed upon the beach and stood in the surf. She turned to observe the belted kingfishers. She had spent so little time on this island. As a consequence, the volume on kingfishers in her library would prove to be very slim indeed. If for no other reason, she would come to rue that, once upon a time, she had lost her composure.
Chapter 33. Falco sparverius
November 7, 2016
Back in the air, Uwetsiageyv quickly heard the giant’s voice calling her forward, away from the Island of Belted Kingfishers.
“Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child.”
Relief flooded the crow girl for a fear had begun to creep into her heart that the repeated summons had in fact been a careful deception orchestrated by Old Magpie. That she found the voice again among the clouds, clear as a clarion and guiding her onward, proved a welcome reassurance.
With her hopes thus buttressed, Uwetsiageyv allowed the lofty winds to course through her, purifying her, carrying away her anxieties and absolving her of all crimes save a modest guilt founded in a lingering doubt that Old Magpie had meant her any harm whatsoever. Even at great altitudes, she could not entirely pull free of a sense of shame.
She performed nocturnal ablutions in cold starlight. In the dim, comfort of early morning, she wrapped herself in swaths of moonlight. Uwetsiageyv reminded herself that she yet lived. She could allow herself to be cowed by the words of the crone no more than she could her own lack of confidence.
In any case, the voice of the giant led her to another island. The geological processes that had formed this island again resulted in an island that suspiciously bore the shape of a giant. This giant appeared to have been petrified in a standing position, only to fall over upon his back at a later date. Although the form had remained intact, his posture did not appear to recline upon the seabed. One arm, outstretched to the side, actually formed a substantial arch, supported only at the shoulder and the fist. In the shadow of this extraordinary peninsula, sea waters found a measure of calm. While most of the island was covered in a deciduous canopy, the arm, from the elbow down remained bare rock.
Uwetsiageyv was drawn to the balled fist at the end of the arm by the cries of Klee! Klee! Klee! repeated rapidly half a dozen times. She had thought the belted kingfisher a singular anomaly among the songbird natives of the Sea of Birds. But it now seemed clear that she had entered new territory, for though she did not yet spy the bird, there was no mistaking the call of the American kestrel, a bird of prey, albeit a most diminutive one.
November 8, 2016
On Relative Stature
Uwetsiageyv spotted the kestrel sitting on a stone. The combination of his slate-blue head and wings and his rusty-colored back and tail blended with the grays and browns of the stone. He was most obviously given away, however, by the pattern of black spots that adorned him above and below. He greeted the crow girl, as one would expect a bird of prey to do, with the careful ambivalence due a creature much too large to be tempting.
Uwetsiageyv thought him a very beautiful bird. Her eyes scanned the stony outcropping, searching for his mate, decorated much the same but absent any hint of slate-blue. If she was there, she was too well hidden.
The kestrel took to the air and led Uwetsiageyv along the arm of the island into the forest. Of course, with the crow girl moving on land, the fleet bird circled many times, waiting for her to catch up. She seemed in no hurry.
She entered the forest in an area dominated by black locusts. These trees did not like sharing the sun and were spaced widely apart, allowing the presence of gaps in the canopy where the outermost leaves of several trees met. Through these gaps, Uwetsiageyv periodically caught sight of the kestrel soaring overhead. When he was out of sight, he guided her with his piercing call.
He led her to a small clearing, where several locust trees presented lovely cascades of their white flowers, though it was far from the season to do so. A small stream ran through the clearing. Uwetsiageyv had left the Island of Belted Kingfishers in such a hurry that she had not had a chance to drink. She took the opportunity to do so now.
She knelt and submerged her hands, allowing the water to chill them, before she cupped them and brought the water to her mouth. As she drank, someone entered the clearing behind her.
She turned to discover Old Magpie. It seemed impossible that she could have flown on wings lacking half their feathers, much less kept up with the pace of the crow girl. Still, here she incontrovertibly stood.
Uwetsiageyv rose. Something seemed odd about the old woman. She still grasped her staff but she appeared to Uwetsiageyv not quite as old as she had at her first encounter. Perhaps, the crow girl’s imagination had exaggerated the extent of the decrepitude. She was, no doubt, still ancient, but her steps toward Uwetsiageyv were sure and steady.
Uwetsiageyv could not hide her disappointment. She was searching for a giant. To discover this imposter a second time only emphasized her lack of progress.
Uwetsiageyv said, “Old Magpie, I am searching for a representative of the Land of Giants.”
Old Magpie shrugged in a way that communicated her belief that she could serve in this role as well as anyone else.
“You are awfully small,” Uwetsiageyv said in a gentle tone, hoping not to hurt the old woman’s feelings.
“I am nearly as big as you,” Old Magpie pointed out in a voice that seemed not so feeble as it had previously.
“I meant for a giant,” Uwetsiageyv clarified.
“Oh, I don’t know, Uwetsiageyv” said the old woman, “I’m pretty big as magpies go.”
November 9, 2016
There was no sense in running away twice. Uwetsiageyv faced Old Magpie in the clearing surrounded by locust trees. The lone kestrel circled overhead, staying out of earshot, though occasionally letting its presence be known with a cry from above.
Thus, an uneven silence ensued. Each time Uwetsiageyv thought the old woman would speak she was mistaken. Old Magpie opened her mouth then closed it again, producing nothing.
It fell to Uwetsiageyv to begin the conversation.
“Why did you follow me?” She asked out of curiosity but once the words emerged they seemed to carry an accusatory tone. Although she meant no harm, Uwetsiageyv did not retract the question.
Old Magpie ruffled her wings. The patches of bare, flaccid flesh rippled on the bony frame of her wings. “I didn’t follow you,” she replied.
“Oh,” said Uwetsiageyv sharply, “we both arrived here on the same day by chance?”
Old Magpie seemed either not to recognize or, if she did, not to be offended by the crow girl’s sarcasm. “What are you talking about? I have lived on this island since long before you were born, child.”
Uwetsiageyv made to respond but then, perhaps unconsciously mimicking the old woman, she closed her mouth and said nothing.
“Look at these old wings,” said Old Magpie. She spread the wretched appendages so that they could be examined in full. “Do you honestly think I could have arrived here today, flying on these wings?”
Uwetsiageyv could think of no counter to this argument. She waited for Old Magpie to fold her wings, before she spoke. “How do you know my name?”
“Uwetsiageyv?” The syllables flowed from the Old Magpie’s mouth with something of a lilt. She dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. “It’s a term of affection from old women to young girls. It means ‘my daughter.’”
“I know what it means,” snapped Uwetsiageyv.
November 10, 2016
Uncovering the Lamp
The kestrel entered the clearing. Perched on a branch he spotted a large, olive green grasshopper twitching idly on the ground. In a burst, the bird was upon the insect before it had the chance to leap away. It was quickly dispatched. The kestrel remained upon the ground to devour his modest feast. He seemed not at all perturbed by the proximity of Old Magpie, whom he knew well to be innocuous. This familiarity appeared to extend by association to Uwetsiageyv, whom the kestrel likewise ignored.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you,” said Old Magpie to the crow girl.
It was not a sentiment Uwetsiageyv could reciprocate, so she remained silent.
Her unwillingness to speak seemed to pain Old Magpie, who said with a tinge of disappointment, “This is not how I expected it to be.”
The expression on the wrinkled face, as much as the words themselves, shocked Uwetsiageyv out of her state of indolence; she did not want to be the cause of disillusionment or misery in the world. She quickly realized that she had not attempted a legitimate effort to make the most of this encounter. Embarrassed, she now spoke the truth, “I’m looking for a giant.”
“This island was once a giant,” said Old Magpie.
“I could see that,” Uwetsiageyv said, “from above, when I flew in.” She glanced over at the kestrel; a grasshopper leg jutted from his beak. “I want to find a living giant.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“What do you mean? This is the Land of Giants, isn’t it?”
“It is, but you have come to an island the size of a giant. It defies the laws of the physical world that a giant of equal size to the island itself could exist upon that island. You could no more live upon an island the size of your own body. It doesn’t even make sense. How could you have imagined such a ridiculous thing?”
Uwetsiageyv frowned. Everything Old Magpie said was true but seemed, at the same time, wholly irrelevant to her search. She suspected that Old Magpie knew this as well and offered her words as an intentional act of dissembling. In an attempt to muster her patience, Uwetsiageyv thought of the old woman’s earlier, sympathetic words, ‘This is not how I expected it to be.’ With this in mind, Uwetsiageyv asked, “How did you expect our meeting to be?”
She was rewarded by an expression of beatific joy on Old Magpie’s face, as if she were lit from within by a flame from which a tub had suddenly been lifted.
November 11, 2016
Selected Dreams of a Magpie
“One hundred times one hundred days I have seen you, from afar, gliding on an easterly wind toward this island. I call the kestrel to my side and bid him guide you to me once you have alit upon the beach. He complies eagerly for he too has waited beside me, though he knows not why.
“In my visions, you are inquisitive and unreasonably cheerful, not at all as I have found you now.” Old Magpie turned her blind eyes to face Uwetsiageyv. “One hundred times one hundred meetings have I watched you stride across this clearing with a spring in your step as you move to embrace me. Our reunion is joyful. You ask me tenderly how I have passed the years in your absence. I answer that my spirit was buoyed by the thought of your eventual return. Each rising of the sun brought you one day closer to me.
“I remember these dreams, clearly, for they have visited me often, each time with some variation. They are never exactly the same. In one version, you ask me to dance. I set aside my cane and attempt to honor your request. My balance is unsteady and you catch me when I stumble. In another dream, we are singing, first in the tongue of men then gradually in the song of birds. The kestrel joins us. A song such as that generated by our impromptu trio has never been heard before nor will it ever in this world sound again. In yet another meeting, you and I pray. I give thanks to the gods of hope who have brought you to my side. You have a vindictive prayer to the old gods, who kept us apart for so long. We almost come to arguing over which prayer is more appropriate until, upon closer inspection, we realize that the words of our two prayers are exactly the same. There is also one dream where we trade dresses. I insist that I will look silly in your sleek, snakeskin dress, but you override my objections. You dawn my threadbare white blouse and black skirt. Although my eyes can no longer see, I picture you perfectly. You are laughing and aping the halting movements of my age. I laugh too. I sense myself in you. I become my own grandmother laughing beside my younger self. Oh, Uwetsiageyv, how I have dreamt of you!”
Old Magpie imagined that the crow girl now stood close enough to her that she could raise a hand and rest it against her cheek. But the old woman was mistaken; Uwetsiageyv still stood at the far side of the clearing. Her raised hand touched nothing, then dropped to her side.
“In one dream,” Old Magpie continued, “the joy is too much for you. You don’t know how to process it, how to reconcile your life of searching with this moment of culmination. The sensation is foreign, alien to you. In your fright, your take to the air and madly flee the island.”
Alas, once recounted, it was this last dream that came to pass.
Chapter 34. Buteo jamaicensis
November 14, 2016
The sound of the giant’s voice consoled Uwetsiageyv as she soared between islands. “Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child. I have been waiting a long time.”
Although the crow girl could not make sense of the two encounters with Old Magpie, she appreciated that not all elements of life were intended to be understood. Many events transpired, which no one at the present time nor any subsequent time later were able to fit into an over-arching narrative. Uwetsiageyv presumed the old crone to play such a role, though she admitted the possibility that there might follow some unintended consequence of the two abrupt flights from her.
She flew not long and spotted another island beneath her. For the first time in her journey through the Sea of Birds, Uwetsiageyv intentionally skipped an island. She had not flown long enough to feel cleansed by the high winds and to regain her composure. In fact, she climbed to greater altitude in order to put more distance between herself and the Earth. Uwetsiageyv required several exposures to nightly starlight before she felt prepared to explore another island.
When she was ready, she descended and within a day spotted another island in the shape of a petrified giant. This giant had cloaked himself in a heavy mantle, perhaps the hide of a great bear. This cape too had succumbed to petrification. As a result, the only features of the giant not obscured by the folds of the mantle were a head at one end and the bottom of two boots at the other. Of course, if Uwetsiageyv had not been looking for a giant, she would have found in this island only an irregular trapezoid with three amorphous outcroppings. However, she knew what to look for, or so she told herself.
She arrived in mid-afternoon and the natives rose to greet her. A pair of red-tailed hawks screeched at her, though they made no attempt to drive her away. A mated pair, the couple circled as she circled. She examined them in detail as they scrutinized her peculiar black dress and black wings. For their part, the hawks bore a wingspan of about four feet, with the female slightly larger than the male. From above, their plumage was a rich brown and from below they displayed a streaked, pale belly. The red of their tails, for which they were named, was only apparent in a soft tinge of cinnamon.
Without any fanfare, they accompanied her down to the margin between the forest and the beach. With this third island, Uwetsiageyv accepted that she had left the realm of songbirds and entered a neighboring archipelago of predators.
November 15, 2016
A Shared Trait
At the beckoning of the red-tailed hawks, Uwetsiageyv entered the forest. She looked, as was her habit, for a stream to follow as she ascended the natural slope of the island. None immediately presented itself, but the folds of the mantle gave rise to numerous ridges; she felt confident that, in the seams between some of these ridges, water gathered to form a stream.
Almost as soon as she began her march, she encountered airborne seeds carried aloft by thin tendrils of cotton. Indeed, the portion of the forest she had entered was dominated by well-spaced cottonwoods. The canopy, sparser than usual, was broken in many places, allowing light to filter into the forest interior, illuminating the threads of cotton as they were carried capriciously on the slightest of breezes.
The cottonwoods themselves were spectacularly old. In the lands surrounding the orphanage, Uwetsiageyv had never encountered cottonwoods of this stature. Some stretched well over one hundred feet in height and their trunks spanned nearly six feet in diameter. The smooth silvery-white bark of young cottonwoods, with which she was familiar, had given way to deeply fissured dark gray surfaces on these ancient creatures.
The pair of hawks did not hurry the crow girl in any manner; they knew well the respect the forest commanded and did not tamper with the emerging adulation of Uwetsiageyv. They admired her as she walked upon a wispy carpet of fallen cotton. The currents of air brought by each footstep displaced the seeds, tossing them back into the air, leaving footprints of bare forest floor. It was as if, even with her black wings folded, she traversed the clouds.
The hawks escorted her to Old Magpie.
Uwetsiageyv remembered her manners this time. She curtsied and made no show of any disappointment she may have felt at meeting the crone for a third time.
“Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child. I have been waiting a long time,” said the woman, who was not so old any longer. She appeared perhaps as a matron of sixty years, rather than the centenarian of the Island of Belted Kingfishers or the nonagenarian of the Island of American Kestrels. Her wings remained largely feathered though the discoloration of age was apparent. The staff she held seemed to serve as a prop rather than as a means of support. It seemed this substantially younger magpie had not yet succumbed to blindness.
“Old Magpie, I too have been waiting a long time.” Uwetsiageyv crossed the distance between them and warmly embraced the bird woman.
Afterward, Old Magpie held the crow girl at arm’s length and examined her. “You are just as I imagined,” she said.
“I feel as if we’ve met before,” replied the crow girl.
“That may very well be,” admitted Old Magpie. “I have a silly habit of tearing myself in two and leaving pieces of myself everywhere I have been and everywhere I will be. Who knows how many of these islands I may wander upon?”
“Really?” said Uwetsiageyv, surprised that it had taken her so long to come to the obvious truth. “I may have done a similar thing myself.”
November 16, 2016
A First Sighting
The hawks flew off, leaving the crow and magpie alone together, or so they thought. Soon a tree squirrel, who had kept hidden in some cavity, emerged. As far as she could remember, this was the first mammal Uwetsiageyv had seen in the Sea of Birds. Presumably the availability of prey had been part of the reason the hawks had settled on this particular island.
To Old Magpie, Uwetsiageyv asked, “Have you ever seen a giant?”
“I think I did once,” said the woman as she led the girl from the clearing along a narrow footpath, coated in a thin, almost translucent layer of cotton.
“Really?” asked Uwetsiageyv, unable to keep the excitement from her voice. “What was it like?”
“I’m afraid there’s really not much to tell,” said Old Magpie. “There was quite a distance between us and the morning fog hadn’t yet entirely lifted. Still, it was so large that it seems to me it couldn’t have been anything but a giant. By the time the sun had burned off the fog, it was gone.”
The path narrowed and the pair traveled single file for a while, with Old Magpie in the lead.
“What was it doing?”
“It seemed to me that it was just walking along, minding its own business. Perhaps it was looking for a comfortable place in which to recline and allow the sun to warm it.”
That seemed a rather unlikely explanation to Uwetsiageyv. Although she was by nature a trusting person, a suspicion grew in her. Her thoughts were momentarily diverted by the music of a flowing stream.
“Are you thirsty?” asked Old Magpie.
“I am,” admitted Uwetsiageyv.
The path widened to a clearing. A large flat slab of rock, which apparently served as a bench, was placed beside the stream. It was large enough to accommodate two people. Old Magpie settled in her place on the moss-covered stone. Uwetsiageyv drank from the stream before taking the spot beside her.
Refreshed, she asked, “Did you make that up?”
“Did I make what up?” said Old Magpie.
“Seeing the giant.”
Old Magpie thought for a nearly a minute, as if scouring her memory for some shred of evidence to validate or undermine her previous claim. “I am of two minds on how to answer your question.”
Uwetsiageyv waited for the woman to continue at her own pace.
“We had better start over,” said Old Magpie.
“Okay,” said Uwetsiageyv agreeably. “Have you ever seen a giant?”
November 17, 2016
A Second Sighting
Upon the Island of Red-Tailed Hawks, Old Magpie held forth on the subject of giants. Although, it fell to Uwetsiageyv to assemble an ornithological collection for her library, she conceded that Old Magpie was herself part bird. She therefore felt quite within her rights to include a book authored by one such as her.
The tome is enormous. One might even describe it as gigantic, for Old Magpie spoke at great length. She had lived in the Land of Giants for an extended period of time and, while actual sightings were few and far between, the opportunities for speculation were innumerable. Here, we do not endeavor to capture even a minute percentage of the text. Any sort of summary is impractical. We simply recount a single passage.
“Have you ever seen a giant?” asked the student of the master.
“No creature who possesses eyes can rightly claim to have lived a single night without observing a giant. One has merely to lift one’s gaze skyward. Each pinprick of light in the black tapestry of the night sky is a giant eye in itself or, in many cases, a collection of countless billions of giant eyes, so distant that their collected glow appears as a single point. Together they represent a universal creature with untold quadrillions of eyes. With so many seeing orbs, one would guess that no event was too insignificant to transpire without the notice of at least one such eye. However, the truth lies far to the contrary; for much remains unknown in this reality, veiled in shadow, hidden in darkness. Philosophers imagine the omnipotence of such a giant, and once imagining it, further imagine that, as a direct consequence of its omnipotence, it has already imagined itself from the realm of fantasy into our physics-based reality.” Old Magpie paused. “This is one giant I have seen and not seen, for it is impossible to ignore it and at the same time it cannot be perceived in full.”
The crow maiden then asked, “Have you also seen a little bit smaller giant?”
Old Magpie replied, “Each of us creates at least one giant by virtue of our being born. Some pass the entirety of their lives oblivious to their gargantuan twin. Others, for better or worse, consciously seek the giant out. Of course, they are surprisingly elusive given their ponderous size. Only on rare occasions is one actually discovered and then, as often as not, the seeker realizes that they would have been better off had the quest continued unfulfilled, since their living worth was tied to the process of the search.”
The crow maiden frowned. “Old Magpie, I am fairly sure that what you are describing is not a giant.”
The Old Magpie looked surprised but not offended. She waited for the error in her thinking to be revealed.
“I am fairly sure that what you are describing is only an idea.”
“Only an idea?” said Old Magpie. “There is nothing more pernicious.”
November 18, 2016
Good Bye, Old Magpie
Again, time fled. Later, Uwetsiageyv would not be able to recount how many days she had spent in the company of this version of Old Magpie. She had only the size of the resulting volume to testify as to the considerable period of time.
They certainly did not spend all of their time together seated on the stone bench beside the creek. As she spoke, Old Magpie provided a tour of the island, from the heights of the central peak to the shoreline. So it came to pass that Uwetsiageyv collected two books upon that island, for she had ample opportunity to observe the red-tailed hawks.
On one occasion, she watched them raid the high next of a tree squirrel and feast upon the young within. They flew to an adjacent branch to devour each squirrel, so sure were they that those remaining lacked the courage to flee the nest. In such a manner was the entire nest emptied, the parent nowhere to be found.
Uwetsiageyv wondered why Old Magpie would choose an island of predation upon which to dwell, when there were so many other islands in which the songbirds made do with seeds or insects. Certainly, such considerations would have influenced Uwetsiageyv in the choice of island upon which to settle. She had no chance to ask the question; Old Magpie brooked no interruption.
Old Magpie finished her recitation of the text standing at the beach lining the sole of one of the feet of the mantled giant. “I suppose,” she said to Uwetsiageyv, “tomorrow you must continue your own search for a giant.”
“I suppose so,” Uwetsiageyv agreed. The thought of departing had not yet entered her mind but she interpreted the words of Old Magpie as an indirect request.
The woman and the girl watched the sun set beneath the still, watery horizon. Neither spoke further. Much had already been said by the one and the other had nothing to add. That night, the stars wheeled about overhead as they always do, offering what comfort they could, which was considerable but not infinite.
Chapter 35. Megascops asio
November 21, 2016
A Quiet Arrival
The voice of the giant found Uwetsiageyv again as she ascended above a layer of low-hanging clouds. The familiar call, “Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child,” filled her with a sense of relief. The search continued; some portion of her had feared that the wisdom of Old Magpie might have muffled the voice of the giant. As Kawoladesgv called her name again and again, the crow girl danced gaily from current to current.
She was led across a flight of a dozen nights to another island in the shape of a fallen giant. From above, lit by the orange light of dawn, this giant appeared to be a woman sitting cross-legged with a bowl or some sort in her lap. She held the bowl with one arm and a utensil in the other, its end hidden in the bowl. Perhaps she held a spoon and stirred a porridge. Alternatively, she may have held a pestle and crushed spice in a mortar. The details of the petrified form were difficult to resolve, owing in part to their age, which had allowed them to succumb to the erosion of wind and water, as well as to the forest which carpeted the island beneath a canopy of green. Regardless of whether the giant had been captured in the act of stirring a potion or grinding bone, the female form made Uwetsiageyv immediately think of a witch, though she could not decide if it meant that she would find Kawoladesgv or another version of Old Magpie on the island.
Uwetsiageyv landed on the beach at the bottom of slope directly beneath the lip of the mortar. No bird emerged to greet her. She allowed the sun to rise into late morning, but still no welcoming committee came to guide her steps. Uwetsiageyv therefore took it upon herself to ascend the slope and search beneath the forest on her own. Passing the tree line, she found the forest to be composed of small sourwood trees, no more than twenty feet in height, interspersed among much larger sugarberry. The red-tinged scaly bark of the former stood out among the corky warts, which covered the trunks of the larger trees. Sourwood and sugarberry seemed an unlikely pairing to Uwetsiageyv, but apparently they had dwelt on this island in each other’s company for so long that they had learned to get along quite well.
“Kawoladesgv,” she called to the empty space beneath the trees. She hoped as much to rouse the hidden natives as to summon the giant. However, only the giant answered with its reassuring refrain as Uwetsiageyv ventured deeper into the forest.
November 22, 2016
It wasn’t until night fell that the residents of the island revealed themselves. A monotonic trill, lasting several seconds, sounded in the forest, followed by another, somewhere more distant.
Uwetsiageyv smiled in the growing darkness. She knew the call well. The eastern screech owl was far more often identified by its call than by sight, for it was, all at the same time, nocturnal, diminutive and elusive.
She trod slowly through the forest in an attempt to position herself at a point where she might at least glimpse a silhouette of an owl as it darted for a mouse or a frog. Her efforts at stealth were rewarded only by a descending whinny, curiously horse-like, as an owl called out in defense of its territory.
Giving up any pretense of furtiveness, Uwetsiageyv strode through the forest as the moon rose and eventually provided ample light by which to spot, if only momentarily, an owl here and there. One was perched ten feet up on the lowest branch of a sugarberry, its attention focused on the leaf litter. She came face to face with another, who sat perfectly still in a sourwood, staring at her until she stepped nearly face to face with it.
“Hello,” she whispered. She, of course, loved owls but she did not wish to disturb it.
She had little to worry about, for what came next disturbed all the owls on the island to such a great extent that they forgot her presence entirely.
A terrible clamor descended from the sky. It carried an unpleasant familiarity for Uwetsiageyv’s ears. The agitated owls flew from tree to tree as the dwarf’s flying machine, circled beneath the starlight looking for a landing spot.
The contraption seemed almost directly above Uwetsiageyv though her view of it was blocked by the canopy. A minute later a terrific crash reverberated through the forest. The crow girl raced through the relative silence that followed, as the screech owls trilled in her wake.
Coming upon a small clearing, she found the flying machine upside down, its wings laid out upon the ground, apparently all in one piece. Still strapped to it, the dwarf lay on his back. His eyes followed Uwetsiageyv as she hurried to his side.
“Are you okay?” She knelt down beside him and began to unfasten the buckles that held him fast to the machine.
He gazed at her snakeskin dress. The moonlight glinted off a thousand scales. The crow girl seemed herself to be a creature of the stars. “Night landings,” he said in greeting, “always give me trouble.”
November 23, 2016
Once the dwarf was standing beside her, Uwetsiageyv asked, “Why didn’t you wait until the morning?”
The dwarf dusted off his shoulders. “Night-time ambush,” he said. “I had to sneak up on the giant. Where is it?”
“Where is the giant?” Uwetsiageyv asked, almost in disbelief.
“Exactly.” The dwarf peered into the shadows of the surrounding forest. Discovering nothing, he next listened carefully and was alerted to the presence of owls.
The thought of one owl led to another. A flash of fear crossed his face. “Is Chwèt here?”
Uwetsiageyv ignored him. “Ambush?” she repeated. “I am the bait for your sneak attack?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call you bait,” said the dwarf. “We are more or less co-conspirators.”
“Even worse,” Uwetsiageyv commented drily.
“In fact,” continued the dwarf, likely in a deliberate attempt to provoke her, “according to the prophecy, you are the ringleader. I am just a hapless lion, trained to jump through flaming hoops.” He smiled in the darkness as he reconsidered his metaphor. “Or a jester ambling about for the amusement of the gathered children.”
“There is no audience,” Uwetsiageyv insisted, “for this drama that unfolds around us. We are the only witnesses.”
An owl trilled in the shadows, pointing out the error in her words.
The dwarf’s thoughts returned to his original intention. “Where have you hidden the giant? Where is the table at which we shall sit side by side?”
“I haven’t found the table yet,” Uwetsiageyv admitted.
The dwarf folded his arms, showing his dissatisfaction. He circled the flying machine splayed out on the ground. He resolved to wait until the light of day in order to examine it for damage before folding it away. Completing his cursory inspection, he asked of Uwetsiageyv, “Do you know the giant’s name?”
Her reticence confirmed his suspicion.
“If you share its name with me, we will be better prepared to coordinate our attack.”
Uwetsiageyv refused to show any indignation. Instead she sighed audibly. “There will be no coordination...”
“Except,” appended the dwarf, “that which is dictated by the prophecy.”
“Except for that,” Uwetsiageyv agreed weakly. It was hard to dispute the prophecy. Here she stood, despite her best intentions, with her partner in crime. They shared the words of conspirators. They assessed the feasibility of their plans with each other. She could not deny the kernel of sentiment she felt for the dwarf who had first befriended her upon the Island of Goldfinches and who had labored on her behalf to garb her in the finery in which she was now adorned. It seemed churlish if not futile to deny the bond between them.
November 24, 2016
The dwarf and the crow maiden walked side by side through the forests of sourwood and sugarberry that populated the Island of Eastern Screech Owls. The natives for which the island was named were silent now that the sun had risen.
They ascended the central peak of the island along a contour that best corresponded to the arm of the giant holding the spoon or pestle. At the shoulder, they found three oddly angular slabs of stone, a larger one in the center and two smaller stones of equal length but lesser height aligned parallel to it.
Recalling the stone bench she had last sat upon with Old Magpie, Uwetsiageyv could not help but perceive in these three stone blocks before her a table and two benches. She looked discreetly to either side, thinking she might now meet an even younger version of the magpie on this island. Perhaps if she continued, she would meet a version the same age as herself. Young Magpie and the Crow Maiden would be great friends, following the example of Scarlet and Uwetsiageyv. What a book that would make!
The dwarf’s thoughts were not so carried away. No less than Uwetsiageyv, he observed the function of the three stones and caught her sidewise glance. Brushing past her, he climbed upon one of the benches. All surfaces were covered in green moss, sheltered from the sun by the shade of the canopy. On this platform, he stood about an inch taller than Uwetsiageyv. He turned to face her. “Is this the table of which the prophecy spoke?”
Uwetsiageyv leaned over and gave the old stone and fair moss a second look. “I suppose so,” she admitted.
“And the giant, is it near?”
“Yes,” Uwetsiageyv replied, “She is near.”
“You must wait here,” said the dwarf firmly, “until she arrives.”
“So that I can make peace between you?” asked the crow girl hopefully.
The dwarf produced a curious smirk. “If a river is rising to flood your home, do you make peace with it?”
November 25, 2016
As the sun crept across the sky, he moved from the bench, sometimes to the ground beside it. Occasionally he stood atop the table itself. The dwarf held forth on the righteousness of his cause.
For her part, Uwetsiageyv, who had always understood that he held the prophecy in greater esteem than did she, finally realized the extent of his devotion to it. The prophecy seemed to exert an obsessive hold over him. She thought to disappoint him only as much as necessary, since she had lately become convinced that the prophecy was, at best, a metaphor and, at worst, a ruse.
“Perhaps, the giant you seek,” she suggested to the dwarf, “is an idea, dwelling within you, with which you have yet to come to terms.”
“An idea?” scoffed the dwarf. “Do you think we are standing on an idea?”
He was apparently referring to the resemblance of the island to a petrified giant. Uwetsiageyv wished she had someone beside her to bolster both her arguments and her determination but the natives of this island were nocturnal and left her to her own devices during the day.
“An idea?” repeated the dwarf. He squinted at the crow girl. “I know just what to do with an idea. I’ll climb a tree and lodge in a high branch. When that idea passes beneath me, I’ll throw myself upon it. Landing on its shoulders, I’ll wrap my arm around its neck.” Here, for Uwetsiageyv’s benefit, he demonstrated a choke hold with his right arm.
The dwarf continued, “The giant will reach behind its back and I’ll take hold of that arm and, with my free hand, pull it up, immobilizing it. Eventually the choke hold will cut off the air to its brain and it’ll fall asleep. Just as it goes unconscious, I’ll whisper in its ear, ‘Good Night, Darling!’ Then it’ll drop to the ground like a sack of river stones. It may fall backwards. If I’m not able to throw myself clear, I stand to be crushed beneath it. In that case, I’ll have to burrow out—dwarves find great comfort moving through the earth.”
He paused in his monologue to smile at the crow maiden, whose eyes were fixed upon him. She smiled weakly in return.
“I’ll climb upon the giant’s chest as it lies supine beneath me. Then I will face a terrible decision. Do I cut the giant’s throat, sacrificing it, making the most of the idea which it supposedly contains? Or do I prop it up at the side of the table and let it simulate dining with me? On my terms!” This last declaration ended in a shout.
Uwetsiageyv waited patiently then, after a considerable silence, asked, “Which will you do?”
“I don’t know,” barked the dwarf, still caught in a truculent mood, “I won’t know until the adrenalin of the fight clears my mind.”
The answer did not surprise the crow girl.
Eventually the sun set. It had been a long day and the dwarf sank into a deep slumber, as if he were a sacrificial goat laid out upon a stone altar.
The screech owls came forth and encouraged Uwetsiageyv to follow his suggestion and offer the sacrifice, if not to his idea, then to one of her own choosing. She thanked the owls for their advice, but opted to follow her own conscience. She departed the island, leaving the dwarf safely ensconced within his dreams.
Chapter 36. Bubo virginianus
November 28, 2016
“Uwetsiageyv, come to me, my child. I have been waiting a long time,” called Kawoladesgv.
The crow girl heard the sonorous call carried on the same currents that buoyed her. All thought of the dwarf grandstanding on the stone table was purged from her mind. Focused on the voice summoning her, she felt closer to the origin of the voice that she ever had. Perhaps on the next island, the giant would appear.
Uwetsiageyv traveled through sunlight and moonlight. Her wings had become so accustomed to flight that she no longer felt the fatigue of extended travel as anything more than muscle memory. “Soon, I will be there,” she said to Kawoladesgv.
She discovered the island just before dusk, a speck of land that did not reflect the pink rays of the setting sun in the same way as did the vast expanse of water surrounding it.
As Uwetsiageyv drew closer, the island resolved into the shape of a female giant, reclining on her elbows in the water, in an almost languid pose. One leg was stretched out in front of her. The other was bent, the knee forming a sharp peak distinct from that of her head and shoulders.
From the air, Uwetsiageyv received the ambivalent calls of the natives, who were just stirring to begin their night’s work.
A male and female performed a choreographed duet composed of deep, soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm. “Hoo h’HOO hoo hoo.” Of course Uwetsiageyv cherished an abiding fondness for great horned owls. Even before she landed upon the beach, she hailed them, “Great owls, it is only I, a solitary traveler, seeking a temporary respite in your home.” Perhaps, the owls were reassured by these words. In any case, they continued their calls until they became serious with regard to their nocturnal hunt, at which time their presence could no longer be detected by any sound whatsoever.
Uwetsiageyv left them to their work. She did not enter the forest, which boasted a preponderance of ancient beech trees, many of which towered more than one hundred feet above her. At the edge of the tree line she discovered that the ground had a curiously giving, clay-like consistency to it. With slight pressure, she indented a footprint into the soil.
“Kawoladesgv,” said the crow girl, “I am here.”
“Finally!” replied the giant, “I have been waiting a long time.”
“I know, I know. I was held up.”
November 29, 2016
The Hertzsprung Taxonomy
“Kawoladesgv,” said the crow girl to the voice of the giant, “I am afraid that I may have been followed by a dwarf, who goes by the name of Mr. R. A. Peach. He is intent on seeing the prophecy to fruition, even if it means resorting to violence.”
“Oh, that Mr. Peach,” said the giant as if she was remarking upon a mischievous child who again had been caught sneaking a treat from the cookie jar, “we need not worry overmuch about him.”
“I would not underestimate him,” warned Uwetsiageyv. “He has shown extraordinary perseverance.”
“Indeed, I hear him even now,” agreed the giant, revealing that not only were giants’ voices capable of crossing great distances, but their ears were also attenuated to receive messages from afar. “He stands atop the table, shouting at the stars. He identifies them by color and size. Brown dwarf! Red Giant! He attempts to bait them into battle. He even hypothesizes stars, like the Helium White Dwarf, that have not yet come into existence owing to the relative youth of our universe.”
As she listened, Uwetsiageyv craned her neck to examine the same stars upon which the dwarf gazed. “He is looking for a fight,” said the crow girl to Kawoladesgv. “He wants to put you in a headlock. I heard him say so himself.”
The voice of the giant chuckled, a deep resonant sound that reverberated through the substance of the island.
In response, the great horned owls called out, unseen in the darkness of the forest. Whether they approved of the laughter or were perturbed by it remained unclear. Uwetsiageyv resolved to devote a chapter in their book to unraveling that mystery.
“My head,” said the giant, “is already too far unlocked for its contents to be gathered and locked back up. The secrets have fled and been disseminated in fragments across all these islands.”
“Is this then all the dwarf meant to the prophecy?” Uwetsiageyv could not accept that the dwarf had no further role to play.
“No,” replied the giant, “he is not forgotten because your thoughts still revolve about him.”
“He made this dress for me,” Uwetsiageyv said, modeling it. Starlight glinted off the scales in a manner that one was tempted to describe as a defiance of conventional physics.
“It is a lovely dress,” Kawoladesgv admitted. “You are right to think kindly of him; you are in his debt.”
“He wanted me to help him turn the world upside down.”
“You will have your chance, my child, more than one chance, I think. But before you dash off, I have been waiting a long time to share a few words of advice with you.”
“Especially for me?” Uwetsiageyv asked, a thrill growing in her chest.
“Not actually just for you,” Kawoladesgv said apologetically. “This is good advice for everyone. Feel free to share it.”
November 30, 2016
A Footnote from the Analects
The voice of the giant and the crow maiden toured the Island of Great Horned Owls. The pair first ascended the knee from the ankle, then shuffled down the steep slope of the thigh to the hip, where they wove a path through the beech trees as they ascended along the waist and over the ridges of the ribs.
Along the way, Uwetsiageyv encountered several, solitary natives. Perched on a high roost, one such owl stood two feet tall. The long, ear-like tufts gave him a severe countenance and the intensity of his yellow eyes pierced Uwetsiageyv. When he glided from one branch to another, his wingspan exceeded the height of the crow girl.
“Oh,” marveled Uwetsiageyv, “He is a fine bird.”
Later, at the edge of dawn, she observed from a distance another owl swoop down upon a small creature and execute some particular maneuver before claiming its prize in its beak and flying off. The voice of the giant explained that she had just witnessed the owl disarm a scorpion of its stinger before dining upon it.
“I haven’t seen any scorpions in the Land of the Giants,” Uwetsiageyv said.
“The owls don’t see them either; they located the scorpions by the scuttling of their claws.” Kawoladesgv said. She went on to offer another, at best peripherally related, opinion. “When I was a much younger woman, I took to traveling across the central plains of the Land of Giants in the guise of an itinerant lecturer. I relied entirely upon the generosity of the nobility, the gentry and, when needed, the common folk for my lodging and sustenance.”
“Upon what subjects did you lecture?” asked the crow girl.
The voice of the giant paused. When she resumed, her tone betrayed a surprised embarrassment. “I seem to have forgotten, but I feel fairly certain it was neither etiquette nor mathematics.”
“You forgot what you lectured about?”
“It was a long time ago...” said Kawoladesgv by way of explanation. “In any case, during those days, I had frequent occasion to run into difficult people—bandits on the road or just inhospitable hosts.” She paused then added thoughtfully, “And sometimes good people with whom I had worn out my welcome. I remember two important points from that era, which I would like to share with a fellow wanderer.”
Uwetsiageyv waited patiently.
“If possible,” said the giant, “you should attempt to avoid difficult people. However, if the situation dictates that you interact with them, then you must never abandon your dignity nor stoop to their level.”
The great horned owl listened to the voice of the giant no less than did the crow girl but with greater understanding, for it had heard such phrases uttered many times over when no one else was present.
As for Uwetsiageyv, she did not perceive a specific purpose of the words—did the giant speak of the dwarf?—but they seemed reasonable in general and thus she stored them away for future reference.
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